Sixty-four years on, football supporters in the United States of America will be hoping that this summer brings something approaching a repeat of what remains this nation’s greatest single result in the World Cup. In Brazil in 1950, the USA team was unable to get through the group stages of the competition, but they did at least have the supreme consolation of beating England – who were making their first appearance in the World Cup finals, having fallen out with FIFA over payments to amateur players – by a goal to nil in Belo Horizonte, thanks to a goal from the Haitian born Joe Gaetjens. It’s a result that remains, no matter what the unanticipated shortcomings of that England team may have been, probably the greatest surprise in the history of the tournament.
That would be that for the USA and the World Cup finals until 1990, when the team was knocked out in the group stages of the competition without winning a single game. Four years later, however, they hosted the competition and there was no great embarrassment in going out in the Second Round of the tournament against its eventual champions Brazil, but this country’s stuttering form in this competition has continued since then – they lost all three games in 1998, but managed a best ever quarter-final appearance in Japan and South Korea four years later before narrowly losing to Germany. This stop-start performance has continued since then. In 2006, they could only manage one point from three matches and finished at the bottom of their group, before topping their group and being eliminated in the Second Round four years ago.
The flies in the ointment for the USA team in both 2006 and 2010, however, are their opponents this evening. Ghana was the team that eliminated the United States of America in both 2006 and 2010, and American hopes for this summer have already long been tempered by the knowledge that they have to play not only the team that has become their bogey team over the last eight years, but also accomplished and experienced teams in the form of Germany and Portugal after this evening’s match. A little optimism, however, may have returned to the cheeks this evening with news of Portugal’s feeble capitulation at the hands of Germany earlier this evening. There’s still all to play for.
Ghana’s historical record in this competition is a little more consistent than that of the USA, though we have less to go on. Four times winners of the African Cup of Nations, Ghana didn’t qualify for the finals of the World Cup until 2006, and that win against the USA was enough to see them through to the Secound Round of the competition, where they were beaten by comfortably beaten by Brazil. Four years later in South Africa, their involvement in the tournament ended in controversial circumstances. Having edged out Australia and Serbia in the group stages of the competition, they then beat the USA after extra time in the Second Round before losing on penalties against Uruguay in the quarter-finals in a match probably best remembered for Luis Suarez’s deliberate handball in extra time and Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty miss. The last African team remaining in the competition was then knocked out after a penalty shoot-out.
As mentioned above, Portugal’s disastrous result this evening will have buoyed the hopes of both of this evening’s teams that a place in the next round of the competition is possible, to say the least. Join Ian King (and quite possibly some other reprobates) shortly before 11pm (BST) for a live-blog that will most likely have little to do with anything that happens on the pitch.
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